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‘Transitions in Leadership’

Prof. Emeritus Robert Turrill publishes book about Marshall’s uniquely successful MBV program

October 13, 2020
Transitions in Leadership_Robert Turrill

USC Marshall’s Master of Business for Veterans (MBV) program is not simply an MBA rebranded for military veterans, active duty and reserve personnel. The MBV, launched in 2013, is the only program of its kind at a business school, according to Professor Emeritus of Management and Organization Robert Turrill.

“Our mission is defined as one of transition from military careers and mindset to civilian careers, including entrepreneurship,” said Turrill, who for six years was the academic/faculty director and the leadership instructor for the MBV. “This unique program provides the students with a more total experience that fosters personal growth, opportunity discovery, and career preparation.”

“To me, it's a compelling story that should be shared. And it is both a personal and program legacy book. I wanted to leave documentation of our intent and design as well as a reflection of our start-up years.”—Robert Turrill, Emeritus Prof. of Management and Organization former academic director, MBV

In his new book, Transitions in Leadership: The Story of the MBV — A Unique Program for Transitioning Veterans, Turrill shares the one-of-a-kind elements of the program, the group it served, and outcomes of the educational experience.

“To me, it's a compelling story that should be shared,” he said. “And it is both a personal and program legacy book. I wanted to leave documentation of our intent and design as well as a reflection of our start-up years.”

Less than a month after its Sept. 16, 2020, publication, Transitions in Leadership was listed No. 124 in the category of educator biographies on Amazon.

The Case for the MBV

Each year approximately 230,000 veterans process out of the American military and face a challenging transition.

Bob Turrill
Emeritus Professor of Management and Organization Robert Turrill

“Close to 99% of the population has no or very little experience with the all-voluntary military that was authorized in 1973,” Turrill explained. “Often, the individuals currently serving are in a military family where other family members are also military, making the knowledge and experience of military service even more narrow within the population. This large gap in experience and knowledge is often stated as the biggest problem facing returning service men and women.”

The MBV, Turrill said, offers an academic option for the military-to-civilian transition dedicated to promoting the positive values of military leadership and community.

Building the MBV

Marshall’s MBV program borrows curriculum from the Executive MBA, which Turrill also helped develop in 1984, and is delivered in a one-year executive program format, with weekend class sessions and older students (average age is 35-36). That’s where the similarities end.

In 2012, Professor Arvind Bhambri, member of the EMBA design team and faculty director of Executive Education at the time, brought Turrill on board to help develop the MBV program curriculum, design and faculty. 

The MBV provides formal business knowledge and develops critical thinking skills, but it focuses on the transfer of military experience and skill sets to the business environment, as well as the ability to launch, manage and grow a business. Experiential learning components include case studies, live cases and projects, outdoor team-building experiences, Experiential Learning Center activities, and entrepreneurial projects. Turrill noted: “This a high engagement program.”

Since 2013, the MBV has turned out nearly 500 graduates, and experiences from 44 of them are included in Transitions in Leadership. “The book reflects the intensity of my experience and engagement with this special group of student veterans,” Turrill said.

Start-Up Successes

One of the entrepreneurial success stories included in the book is Vigilance Risk Solutions (now CommSafe(ai)), located in San Diego, Calif. “CommSafe(ai) specializes in conflict and violence prevention and offers security, consulting and risk mitigation with a special focus in the field of workplace violence mitigation,” Turrill said. “While there have been several successful startups in various industries, this is one of the more visible, and has been in business since late 2015, the founder graduating in May of 2016.” 

Another Navy veteran is currently the executive overseeing a major national bank's global security program. “She was promoted from overseeing the North American region for the bank's security functions focused to a large extent on cybercrime,” Turrill said.

Community and Collaboration

“The MBV program is based on a lock-step approach delivering a common experience to students with a common background, which fosters high group and interpersonal dynamics,” Turrill said. “With the veterans, who are very team focused, we just offered the opportunity to build bonds between each other rather than competition with each other, and they did the rest.” 

As Turrill points out in the book, MBV graduates have praised the program’s environment of support, sharing, collaboration, inclusiveness and celebrating everyone's success collectively. In other words, an environment reminiscent of their military experience.

Rey Clanor, Cohort VI, said: “I feel that our cohort has really adopted the ‘no man left behind’ attitude and everyone is super willing to talk to each other, teach or help in any way that they can.”

“I have worried that I would have a hard time finding true camaraderie, post-military, but I really understand now that this will not be the case. I gained a sense of family, and a bond that will never be broken,” said Ty Smith, Cohort III.

Turrill, who served in the U.S. Army from 1957 to 1963, including two years active duty,
understands that this community element of the program is essential for veterans: “We create an environment that is mostly safe and inclusive to reduce the possibility of individual isolation, because of the potential that within the veteran student population there are cases of PTSD and similar non-visible injuries.”

‘Personal Transformation’

Personal growth is also embedded in the program's design, curriculum and experience.

Troy Baisch, Cohort VI, said: “I talk about the MBV program as a ‘personal transformation program,’ as opposed to a ‘personal transition program.’ The program focuses on personal and professional growth far beyond what a traditional graduate business degree program or military transition program could ever hope to. …  The MBV, in contrast, transforms its cohort members into something greater than they were before.” 

“I think many of us walked into this thinking this program would help our professional lives, but I would argue that it has added to our personal and spiritual lives just as much,” said Victor Ting, Cohort VI. “Once again, we all feel like we’re part of something greater than ourselves and part of a mission.” 

Turrill noted some consistent qualities in the 500 veterans who went through the MBV program: “They were very positive, service-oriented, contributing citizens with a strong work ethic, mission-focused motivation, team-based process focus, and highly developed leadership skills, including personal humility. 

“Their focus on and acceptance of personal self-improvement and growth and their overarching service orientation made this an exceptional positive teaching environment for me,” Turrill said. “I feel very fortunate to have had this